Fluid power giant Parker Hannifin Corp. (www.parker.com) recently announced its new Bluetooth Wireless Moduflex valve island and three other wireless devices, including a pressure controller, pressure regulator, and rotary actuator. The Cleveland-based company claims it will be the first fluid power vendor to market Bluetooth-based products when it rolls out the devices later this year.
The new products, all aimed at industrial automation applications, could simplify installation and cut costs for manufacturers seeking to network their factories. "When you go wireless, you not only eliminate cables, you also eliminate the connectors that go on each end of the cable," says Sandy Harper, a senior research and development project engineer for Parker Hannifin.
At a minimum, two $5 Bluetooth chips could cut networking costs by 50%, Harper says. The chips, which would be incorporated in a system controller and near a sensor, would replace a cable and connectors that cost anywhere from $20 to $50.
Parker Hannifin expects the Bluetooth technology to initially be applied to monitoring applications in factory floor machinery. There, it could be installed adjacent to pressure or temperature sensors for immediate feedback regarding the "health" of a machine.
In demonstrations, Parker Hannifin has used the technology to control pneumatic valves and actuators on a four-station rotary table that dispenses yo-yos and other small work pieces. A Bluetooth-enabled controller sends a 2.4 GHz radio signal to the company's new Moduflex valve block, which controls the pneumatics that hold the work pieces.
In a separate demonstration, Parker Hannifin has also used the technology to wirelessly provide cleanliness information on a small-scale hydraulic steering mechanism.
Parker Hannifin has also worked with corporate clients on the technology, including a company that makes plastic-encased "cow tags" for dairy farmers. Harper says that the Bluetooth technology enables makers of the system to dramatically reduce wiring. If the 16-station machine had employed conventional wiring, she says, it would have required 32 wires, two for each station. In contrast, the new Bluetooth-enabled machine needs only two wires — one for ground and one for an air line connected to the Moduflex manifold.
The automation community is expected to be careful about adopting the technology, however. Recent successes in the auto industry, particularly with hands-free phones in DaimlerChrysler vehicles, are expected to be watched carefully by controls engineers.
"People in factory automation will want to see it work well in offices and other environments," Harper notes. "They're going to want to know that it's reliable before they adopt it."